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Water Fluoridation

Volume 408: debated on Tuesday 1 July 2003

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What recent representations he has received regarding the extension of fluoridation in the public water supply. [122421]


We have received representations from the water industry requesting that the legislation on fluoridation be amended to make strategic health authorities solely responsible for deciding, where their populations are in favour, that a new fluoridation scheme should be introduced. We will table a relevant amendment to the Water Bill tomorrow, for debate on 9 July before Third Reading of the Bill in another place.

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. I welcome the new team in the Department of Health to their remaining duties in Wales and Scotland.

Fluoridation is one such matter. In my constituency, 69 per cent. of people do not have access to an NHS dentist. The incidence of lip and mouth cancer is among the highest in western Europe, and we have an above-average incidence of decay in children's teeth. My constituents tell me that they do not want fluoride in the water as a matter of compulsion; they want to be able to opt to take fluoride as a supplement. Will the Minister give them the guarantee that the NHS will deal with the dentistry that needs to be performed, but that fluoridation will be a matter of personal choice for the consumer?

We are enabling local communities to decide what they want to do on this matter. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's points about dental services, but those are a matter for the National Assembly for Wales and I cannot comment on them. I hope that hon. Members accept that we are looking to give local communities the decision-making power. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, who believes strongly in devolution, accepts that that is the right way to go on these matters.

Has not Parliament spoken in favour of water fluoridation but mistakenly left the final decision in the hands of plcs, not the people? I thank my hon. Friend—and her predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Salford (Ms Blears)—for ignoring the bluster of the flat earth society and agreeing to table an amendment that will help us to improve children's health. Will she give a firm assurance that, regardless of what happens down the Corridor, this House will get a chance to vote on the issue and clear it up once and for all?

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's support for the proposal. I emphasise that no fluoridation scheme will take place unless there has been wide-ranging consultation in which both the proponents and opponents of fluoridation have been encouraged to participate and in which the majority of the population have indicated that they are in favour. Ultimately, this matter should be decided locally, but we recognise the difficulties that water companies have faced and are proposing to table the amendment in accordance with suggestions put to us on many fronts over recent months.

Countries as diverse as Finland, Cuba, Canada and Germany are now abandoning water fluoridation, but are not finding that tooth decay has increased or decreased. Why should we consider bucking that trend in this country by introducing this illiberal measure?

I have said that the amendment is enabling and will not necessarily lead to any more fluoridation schemes, which will depend on what people decide locally. There is a strong correlation between fluoridation and reducing tooth decay; that is an important fact. Large chunks of England down the east side—roughly from Hartlepool to Essex—have fluoridation occurring naturally at the sort of levels that might be put into matter, and 5 million other consumers already receive fluoridated water in Birmingham and other areas.

A very long time ago, the people of Bolton voted in a referendum against fluoridation, but it was a very long time ago. Bolton metropolitan council also voted against fluoridation, but that was some time ago as well. Will my hon. Friend give consistent guidance to all councils and people across the country so that everyone can have a say in this emotive matter, the guidance is upheld and up-to-date consultations are carried out if and when Parliament decides on the issue?

The detailed guidance will be a matter for regulations. At the moment, we are only at the stage of tabling an amendment to the Bill in another place. Local people will decide how they engage with the options covered by the regulations, which will be a matter for them.

Does the Under-Secretary understand the concern of many that there is already too much interference in what we eat and drink? Fluoridation is one concern, but there is concern also about far too many colourings and additives and the effect that they have on children's behaviour, about the reduction of basic vitamins and minerals in food, and about GM food. I accept that there is a positive dental benefit from fluoridation, but should not the Government concentrate on the real cause of the problems: the amount of sugar consumed by children?

We are doing things to improve diet and decrease the intake of sugar and salt. I reiterate to the hon. Member for Wealden (Mr. Hendry) that 5 million people already receive fluoridated water at one part per million, the proposed level of any scheme, and large chunks of the population receive it naturally through the water supply. The idea that it is purely an artificial additive is clearly wrong.